Standards Aligned:
Labor and Justice Debate Plate: Farmworker Wages
Food System
Grade Level: 
In this eighth-grade humanities lesson, students watch a short video about the 2010 fight by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, and read an article that describes where consumer food dollars go in the food system. Students make posters that synthesize the information, and discuss the roles consumers, government officials, and food system workers play in working for a more just food system. This is the fourth in the Debate Plate lesson series, a six-lesson series that focuses on factors and considerations that influence personal food choices and the impacts of those choices.
Student Learning Goals & Objectives: 

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Understand that their food choices as consumers impact other people within the food system.
  • Discuss the relative proportion of the money they spend on food that goes to each player in the food system, and compare how these proportions vary depending on the characteristics of the food system.
  • Begin to form opinions and build arguments around the theme of justice/injustice in the food system, and consumer responsibility in regards to food choices.

During this lesson, students will:

  • Connect consumer choices to farmworkers’ lives by reflecting on the impact paying one penny more per pound for tomatoes would have on the Immokalee Workers’ pay after watching a video by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).
  • Create posters summarizing the steps involved and wealth distribution breakdown for an average U.S. food product from farm to plate after reading an excerpt from “Where Does Your Grocery Money Go?”
  • Discuss their thoughts, reactions, and opinions in regards to the CIW video and “Where Does Your Grocery Money Go?” article.
Materials & Prep: 
  • "Where Does Your Grocery Money Go?" article 
  • Discussion Questions 
  • Poster paper and art supplies
  • Laptop, projector, and speakers to play video
Procedure Steps: 
  1. Welcome students to the classroom. “This week we’ve been talking about factors and considerations that influence food choices. Today we’ll be diving more into some of the impacts of those food choices on other people by talking about labor and justice issues in the food system.”
  2. When I say “labor,” what does that mean to you? Define “labor.”
  3. So when we’re talking about labor in relation to the food we eat, what, or who, do you think we could be talking about? To put it another way, who are some of the people who work on getting food from the farm to your plate? Tell students this is just a preliminary list that you’ll add to as the class goes on.
  4. And what about “justice”? What does justice look like or mean? What does injustice look like or mean? Define “justice” and “injustice.”
  5. Today, as we look at labor and justice in the food system, we’ll be focusing mostly on the work that farmers and farmworkers do and the compensation they receive for that work. Clarify that “farmers” usually refer to the people who run the farms, and they may or may not actually work in the fields, and “farmworkers” are paid by the farmers to do manual labor on the farm—anything from planting to fertilizing, spraying pesticides if the farm is not organic, and harvesting.
  6. In 2011, a group of farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, launched a Campaign for Fair Food to fight for higher wages. If you have ever eaten a tomato in the winter, it probably came from Florida, and possibly was picked by one of these workers.
  7. Watch Immokalee workers video.
  8. Hopefully, that gives you a sense of the type of work farmworkers do, and the conditions workers face on the job. In that video, the workers were asking for just one penny more per pound that they picked. Now we’re going to jump into some specifics on where the money that you spend at the grocery store goes.
  9. Introduction to supporting information handout:
    • In the industrial food chain, “for every dollar we spend on food, only about 16 cents goes to the farmer. The other 84 cents goes to the chain that brings the food from farm to plate: the diesel and truck and driver that move the food from farm to processing plant or warehouse; the mill or the factory where food is processed, or the cost of storing it until it is sold. They also pay for the people who sell it wholesale or to grocers, the restaurant cooks who prepare it for us when we eat out, the satellite and databases to track shipments, and the workers, forklifts, warehouse and refrigeration at the grocery store. For example, in 2008, shoppers paid about 67 cents for every pound of onions they bought, with about 13 cents going to the farm (19% of what shoppers paid). The workers who picked the onions got between 1 and 2 percent, or just about one penny per pound.”
    • In a less-industrialized food cycle with fewer people and processes between the grower and consumer, a much larger proportion of your food dollars – even up to 100% - goes directly to the farmer and farmworkers.
    • Source: McMillan, Tracie. “Where Does Your Grocery Money Go? Mostly Not to the Farmers.”
    • Choose one of the following activities (or do both, time permitting):
      • Make-a-poster activity: Students make posters summarizing what they think is the most important or interesting information for people to know about labor and justice in the food system based on the video and article.
      • If there is time, students share the posters with the whole class or in small groups.
    • Discussion: Teacher leads a discussion based on any of the following questions:
      • Should consumers be responsible for knowing about their food in terms of justice around production and labor practices?
      • Should consumers be responsible for buying food from responsible sources? Paying more for food?
      • Is it the government’s responsibility for making laws around fair pay?
      • What might barriers to making “responsible” consumer choices be?
      • What would be a deal-breaker for you around supporting a company or product?
      • What is the responsibility of the consumer in terms of being informed about their food?
      • Are there any things you have learned about food that affect how you make food choices?
      • Are there areas you feel are more or less important to be informed?
      • Are there disagreements in your family about food choices?
      • Are there any things that you would change about how you eat or the food available to you, but are not able to?
      • Have you experienced not being in control of the decisions that affect your conscience as a consumer?
      • Do you have a conscience as a consumer?
      • What are the areas that you do feel empowered to make choices around what you consume?
    • Thank students for their participation in the class, and tell them that they’ll continue to explore the theme of labor and justice when they return to the Kitchen.
    Video: "One Penny More" (Coalition of Immokalee Workers)
    • Justice
    • Labor
    • Farmer
    • Farmworker
    • Consumer
    • Wealth distribution
    • Industrial food chain
    • Grower
    • Distributor

    Academic Standards

    Common Core State Standards

    English Language Arts and Literacy, Grade 8


    Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher- led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.



    Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

    Edible Schoolyard Standards

    The Edible Schoolyard Program



    Make positive contributions to small group discussions.


    Communicate relevant questions to classmates; build language and listening skills by practicing self-control, self-awareness, and noticing our impact on others.



    All lessons at the Edible Schoolyard Berkeley are a collaboration between the teachers and staff of the Edible Schoolyard and Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School.